Different from what we imagined.
"You're different than from what I imagined," I say.
"You mean from online?" he says.
"No. From what I imagined."
"Is that a good thing or bad thing?"
"It's a good thing."
"I'm glad then."
"Well, I am a disaster recovery specialist."
It's my first time meeting Ben. We're sitting in a Chinese restaurant called the Silver Dragon in downtown Davis. Surrounding us are green and red faded Naugahyde seats, like in Chinese restaurants you see in movies from the '70s and '80s. He's wearing black framed glasses, a black cardigan and underneath, a blue bengal striped shirt. He looks reasonably handsome and I feel that I look reasonable enough as well. It's been a while since I've gotten out of my steady rotation of a, hazmat suit, t-shirts and soccer shorts.
My name is Allie and I have a degree in biochemistry. After some years of wandering, I am now almost thirty and can say that I hold a steady job. My mom says I inherited her good looks but at my age, I'm squandering it. She refers to this as a sin.
I don't have a dating life. Mainly because I don't date. I don't find it too interesting either. But I like Ben. At least these types. I like that he can look at a crying baby and just say, "humans".
"Actually, it's more like disaster janitor. Recovery specialist is just the title. I clean up after fires, floods, tornado, landslides, earthquakes, hurricanes, any natural disaster, act of god. We don't really recover anything. It's not how I make it out to be on my blod. The mundane outnumbers the bizarre by far...I'm sorry. I tend to talk a lot when I'm nervous. Let me know if you feel like I'm just talking to myself here. I wouldn't be offended if you told me that."
"No worries. Disaster janitor. Substitute teacher. We have our similarities. In my case, the disaster are kids and instead of homes, I have classrooms," he says.
"That's an interesting way of thinking about it. So what would you have if you had a classroom without disasters."
"An empty classroom. Peace. Well, don't get me wrong, there are good and bad ones."
"I'm not sure there's such a thing as a good disaster. That is, if you're still putting disasters and kids on the same level."
"Maybe I'm still a little positive. You could say our love lives are good disasters."
"I don't follow."
"If they were great, we'd have nothing to talk about and no one would care about our blogs."
Ben and I know each other from my blog. Last year, when I started the job, I began a project documenting the things that people leave behind in the face of destruction and inevitability. "In the face of God!" was a comment someone left. As people, we always focus on what we take with us: money, photos, things that connect us to our past, and basic necessities such as food, clothes, and water. Understandable.
But I started wondering about the things we leave behind. Which is. A lot. We spend our lives accumulating wealth so that we can afford things. This is a fact. And then it's gone. Divine intervention. Global warming. A flash flood. Smoking in bed. Smoking in bed with a lover. Angry ex husband.
It got a lot more attention than it should have deserved. And then came Ben.
Ben is interested in all of this of course. "I'm a writer and you're my garbage dump of inspiration," he says when I ask him why. My hunch though, is that he enjoys knowing more about other people's lives than in trying to live his own. That's what writers do don't they.
"People leave pets behind a lot," I say.
"I'm surprised. You'd think pets are apart of the family."
"I would've thought so too. Cats more often than dogs. Fish more often that anything else."
"Maybe they just forgot in the rush. A lot of things happen."
"No. I don't think so. I just think fish don't get enough love. They're pets, but not really pets. Not true pets."
"You're right. I thought I loved my goldfish, we had four of them while growing up but now-a-days, I forget they even existed."
"You'd think they stay alive since they live in water. For fires at least."
The waiter comes over. I make an attempt at transitioning to another topic by coughing.
"Do you want to relive your childhood: kung pao chicken, wonton soup, chow mein, lots of generic brown sauce, etc. or do you want to try the secret menu?" Ben says.
"There's a secret menu?"
"Every place like this has a secret menu. Only if you're true Chinese though."
"Really now. And for all these years, I thought being half was enough."
"No. Far from it. But don't be too hard on yourself."
"So where's the secret menu?"
He pointed to his head.